Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Howard the Duck 6, originally released April 20th, 2016.
“Chip, it was fun to help you out and write some little words beneath your comic about a talking duck who is mad at things.”
-Ryan North, alt text
Patrick: Even though I end up reading an awful lot of them, I tend to balk at the idea of superhero crossovers. Like, I kind of resent the idea that I’d be more attracted to a story if it has both Daredevil and Spider-Man in it. Superheroes, or any combination thereof, do not make a comic book special – the creators do. Rare is the crossover event that successfully melds the stories the creators tell as well as the worlds those stories take place in. Howard the Duck 6, a.k.a. The 2016 Squirrel Girl / Howard the Duck “Animal House” Crossover Part Two: Fight or Fight or Flightfight!, finds a way to do just that, finding a happy home at the intersection Ryan North’s goofy optimism and Chip Zdarsky’s even-goofier pessimism.
The duality of the writing team is laid out pretty early. That mouthful of a title I included in the intro paragraph is preceded by “Ryan&Chip&Erica&Joe Present…” making sure to put at least the first names of both writers and both pencilers involved in this crossover. It’s not even a “Marvel Presents…” moment – the specific people involved in the creation of this book are so integral to its appeal. That same kind of acknowledgement continues in the alt text at the bottom of the page. Zdarksy doesn’t normally do that running commentary on the pages of Howard the Duck, and he’s quick to give credit where it is due, but y’know, not without sorta taking the piss out of North’s little comic quirk. It says:
So, Ryan does these weird “alt text” things in Squirrel Girl to prove that they’re not just about “mainstream text,” I guess. Cool stuff, guys!
I affected the coloring they use in the issue itself, because this is another thing the the issue does to continually re-emphasize that there are two drivers in this car. North’s alt text is always presented in a brownish yellow, so you’ll never be confused about who’s snarky comment is who’s. But I just love this idea that Zdarksy is engaging in a Squirrel Girl-ism as something of a sign of good faith that he’s not just borrowing Doreen for an issue, but the type of story North and artist Erica Henderson normally tell with her.
Which isn’t to suggest that this isn’t also a confident issue of Howard the Duck. It is. One of the hallmarks of the character — as writen by Zdarsky and drawn by Joe Quinones — is having the lovably annoyed hero stumble into dangerous problems and then similarly stumbling onto their solutions. Howard drives the solution for fighting the Cosplayer, but his actions are almost hilariously passive. He tells Biggs the cat (not to be confused with Big the Cat) to dig a hole, but he pretty explicitly doesn’t know what he’s expecting that to uncover. By the same token, Howard just sort of assumes that pulling the books on the Cosplayer’s shelves will eventually open a secret door. It’s the mix of common-sense assumptions and dumb luck that define this character for me.
For my money, this duality is all perfectly wrapped up in the twist on Kraven’s change of heart. In classic Squirrel Girl fashion, he decides that he will no longer hunt innocents, but reserves his hunting only for other hunters. That makes him a hero, right? Well, sure, until you realize — in classic Howard the Duck fashion — that his definition of “hunter” is broad as fuck.
Between Squirrel Girl’s sunny disposition and Howard’s curmudgeonliness, the issue’s almost bursting with humor. Quinones lands a solid visual gag on just about every page. Here’s one of my favorites.
Not only is Punisher doing a little shopping in Rocket’s gun shop flashback, he’s pushing a full cart of automatic weapons! The centerpiece visual joke has got to be Howard in the Cosplayer’s “less powerful, less interesting suit.” Where the Cosplayer is wearing a weird amalgamation of iconic Marvel hero costumes, Howard dons the cape, cowl, ring, lasso, robotic torso and mace of DC’s Justice League.
That jab about DC being less interesting than Marvel is straight Zdarksy, and you can almost see North weighing in on that cynicism in Doreen’s eye-roll in that same panel. Regardless of how these creators’ attitudes differ, it’s clear that they do come together on a few crucial opinions. Their unified artistic outlook is perfectly articulated by their collective reaction to Weapon II.
Adorable, indeed. Ultimately, that’s the strength of both of these series (and all of these creators) – for all the silliness and all the jokes, they all have enormous, adorable hearts.
Taylor! Were you also charmed by this mix of optimism and pessimism? Also, when are we going to see Weapon II’s Holiday Special #1? THAT’S HOW THESE THINGS WORK, I JUST KNOW IT.
Taylor: Usually when I read a Howard the Duck comic, I find Howard’s endless torrent of pessimism trying. The reason for this is that when I read the comic I expect to be entertained with humor, but often find myself questioning why anyone would bother putting up with such a stick in the mud. However, this issue actually uses Howard’s pessimism to great affect and I enjoyed it quite a bit!
The object that Howard’s negativity clashes with the most is naturally Doreen’s endless fount of optimism. This optimism is a hallmark of Doreen’s character and in her own comic it’s the source of her greatest power and how she solves her problems. In this issue, though, her optimism only gets her so far. Soon her friends are about to be killed and there’s really nothing Doreen’s optimism can do about that. Naturally, Howard has some things to say about that.
If Doreen had her way, she would have charged in to save her friends without a plan, all the while hoping that everything would work out for the best. As Howard points out, that’s a better way of getting Doreen killed rather than saving her friends. I find it endlessly amusing that Zdarsky takes what is Doreen’s greatest power and renders it useless, all the while with Howard along side muttering pessimistic phrases. Tellingly, it’s Howard’s pessimism which help save the day in this issue since he’s sure they’ll get annihilated by the cosplay collector if they don’t at least have the semblance of a plan before they launch their attack. The clash of Howard and Doreen ideologies are central to this issue and it’s pleasing to see Zdarsky so obviously championing his home character.
Whereas a lot of the time I find Howard’s attitude grating because it’s rooted in unfounded reasons, in this issue I’m totally sympathetic to his pessimism. I can support Howard’s gloomy outlook because the collection of characters he finds himself going to battle with is less than inspiring. I hadn’t really put together how much of slapdash team they are until I saw them all on one page.
Kraven, Rocket, Beast, Weapon II, Doreen, and Biggs are quite the ragtag bunch. And while each certainly has their special abilities, none of them are exactly what you would call A-listers when it comes to actually battling evil. Heck, Kraven is basically a bad guy as it is! Rocket may be a Guardian of the Galaxy, but without his namesake in his hands, he might as well be sifting through trashcans like others of his kind. Weapon II is tenacious, but tenacity can only do so much for you when you’re the size of a squirrel. Beast is good at thinking and talking, less so at punching. And Biggs. A fat fat robot cat that would rather snuggle than battle? When I see this crew all together in the above panel I fully understand the source of Howard’s pessimism. If my life was in danger and I had to rely on this team I too would find it hard to stay positive.
All of this is to say that I agree with you Patrick, the blend of Howard’s pessimism and Doreen’s optimism works really well in this issue. Also, I actually find myself wishing the crossover lasted longer than just these issues because this dichotomy works so well for both Doreen and Howard. They’re each other’s foil and in being that, they also bring out the best in each other. And when we see these characters at their best, then we see each series at it’s best as well.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?